Rory who? Rory McIlroy. Go ahead…google him. Wait, not yet…keep reading first.
In 2011, at the mecca of modern golf – Augusta National Golf Club – a little known 21-year old from Northern Ireland turned the golf world on its head…for three days. Unfortunately, the Masters Tournament, the first of four majors each year, is a 4-day event. But through those first three rounds, Rory was magical.
His opening round of 7-under 65 made him the outright leader, the youngest to ever hold the lead at the Masters after day one. Through three rounds, he was 12-under par and four shots clear of the field, looking to become the second-youngest winner in the tournament’s history behind Tiger Woods. Unfortunately, the fairy tale ended after the third round, and McIlroy shot the highest final round ever by a third-round leader. Imagine that: in four days, he broke the record for being the youngest first round leader with a 65, and he broke the record for the highest final round score by a leader with an 80! Talk about an emotional roller coaster with a disappointing ending. I can only imagine the thoughts that went through his head of failure and discouragement.
Although he acknowledged his disappointment, he kept playing, and less than three months after his final round disaster, Rory McIlroy led wire-to-wire and won the U.S. Open by 8 shots. His final round round 69 was 11 shots better than his Masters debacle, and he broke several records (many held by Tiger Woods) in becoming the youngest player since Bobby Jones in 1923 to hoist the Championship Trophy. He went on to finish the year as the #2 ranked player in the world.
Heading into 2012, his goals were to reach the #1 ranking and win another major championship. The first goal would be achieved early on as McIlroy held off a charging Tiger Woods to win the Honda Classic and become the second-youngest player to claim the top spot in the Official World Golf Rankings. After a few poor performances in the first three majors, he came into the PGA Championship full of confidence and went on to win the Wanamaker Trophy by 8 shots. He followed it up by winning two of the four FedEx Cup playoff events and helped the European team retain the Ryder Cup. He won the PGA Tour money title with the lowest stroke average (68.87) and the European Order of Merit, matching Luke Donald’s feat the year prior.
If you’re still reading, you may be asking the question, “How does Rory McIroy’s success on the golf course have the potential to change my life?” Fair question. And the answer is…
- Early in the year, McIlroy lost in a playoff to Rickie Fowler on the first playoff hole. Both players hit amazing drives to the center of the fairway, but McIlroy’s approach with a wedge landed 30 feet wide right of the flagstick. Fowler, however, challenged the water and hit his wedge to four feet, making the birdie putt to win the tournament. In an interview following the event, McIlroy said, “I didn’t have the guts to hit that shot (approach shot) and Rickie did. He played great.” His humility in losing says more about his character than his golf ability, and that humility is something many of us lack. Being humble in defeat and giving credit to others for their success is contrary to our culture. Just ask yourself, when was the last time I gave someone credit for their success or I was humble when I lost? The answer may elude you.
- Jack Nicklaus used to say about Tiger Woods, “I just wanted to beat you by one shot. Tiger wants to beat you by as many shots as is possible.” In many ways, Rory has the same attitude, and both players have the ability to kick it into high gear when leading, which is rare. Most players when leading get tentative, they start playing defensively, or as some say, they play not to lose rather than playing to win. In explaining his mindset, I heard McIlroy say something I’ve never heard any other golfer say. He said, “I’m just trying to shoot the lowest score possible.” How beautiful is that. He’s not trying to beat other players; rather, he is simply trying to be excellent at all times. If he is winning by two shots, that’s great, but it might not be the lowest score possible for him. It made me ask the question – and you may be asking it right now – “when was the last time I pursued excellence in what I was doing?” Most of us often swim – no, lounge – in the sea of mediocrity, just doing enough to maintain the status quo. We shoot for being better than the guy next to us, but depending on who is sitting beside us, that may not require a lot of effort on our part. However, being excellent requires a consistent pursuit of what’s possible, not what is expected or required.
Rory McIlroy is just a human being like you and me – he is not a god worthy of our praise or someone we should idolize – but he seems to be doing a few things right these days that are worth our attention. And I wonder, what could you and I accomplish if we displayed humility and pursued excellence in life? The answer just might be the answer to a lot of our problems in life.
What do you say? Let Rory McIlroy change your life.